Technology & Pharma: An Unexpected Intersection

By November 10, 2017 technology transfer


The pharmaceutical industry is currently in an era of change and in some senses is being upended by these changes, thanks to the development of new technology. Patients are rapidly becoming more empowered to do their own research and make decisions about their healthcare. One of the recent technological developments in the healthcare industry enabling this is the rise of the ‘health app’. Apple products have their own integrated health app that tracks statistics such as weight, heart rate, significant medical dates and other information.

Fitbit has 23.2 million active users currently tracking their health and steps with a wearable health tracker. This tracks paces, hours slept, hours spent in restful sleep versus unrestful sleep, calories burned and more. With this information, patients can learn about their daily health habits that we might not otherwise consider. When these apps are kept secure and a personal health information is being kept safe, this can be a valuable tool for people in all aspects of the health industry. However, privacy becomes a murky area when you’re referring to healthcare apps, with many people unsure of whether their information is covered under HIPPA laws, how secure apps are and what information is being stored on servers beyond their control.

“Pharma traditionally works on 20-year time frames, driven by the patent cycle, whereas we think about renewing our technology every year.”

Frank Westermann, App Developer 

The information stored in health apps can be incredibly beneficial to health providers, providing access to a concise and deeply personal summary of health in one  place. There are a number of healthcare apps, aiding diabetics, smokers and anyone looking to keep an eye on their daily health. When the average length of a doctors visit is seventeen minutes, it becomes important to streamline the information gathering process as much as possible.

Even formerly complicated processes like gene sequencing are now simple and easy for a client to do from the comfort of their own home. As we know, your genetic makeup can indicate if you’re predisposed to developing cancer, much in the same way your family history indicates a predisposition for depression. For only $99, a person can send in a ‘spit kit’ and within eight weeks receive the results.

Only 1 to 2 percent of clients who receive a DNA sequencing test will have an actionable result, meaning a dominant mutation indicating a strong probability of developing a dangerous or potentially deadly disease. Even when a person receives knowledge of predisposition, genetic predisposition does not mean definitely developing said disease. Sometimes this information is not actionable, leading others to wonder if the cost is justified. Genetic testing is also done to indicate ‘carrier mutations’ which indicate if you carry a recessive mutation that could be passed down to a child one day, if the other parent of the child also had a recessive mutation for the same disease.

In an almost unbelievable development in technology, the FDA approved a 3D printed pill for customers. Aprecia Pharmaceuticals could begin to sell an anti-seizure medication known as Spritam to treat epilepsy related seizures. These pills are referred to as ‘fast melt’, because the printing technology allows the pills to be more porous than a typical medication, allowing them to dissolve quickly and making them easier to swallow, even for children. This technology also allows for more accuracy in dosing due to the machine ability to standardize doses with incredibly high accuracy. The FDA has already approved other 3D printed medical products such as prosthetics, but this is a promising leap forward.

The pharmaceutical industry is making rapid advancements in technology that could not have anticipated a decade ago, and catching up with the influx of ideas and the information sharing of the 21st century can be a challenge. Many fields are struggling to adapt with the idea of almost all moves being public and the scrutiny faced by companies nowadays, but it is important to remember that with this comes an unprecedented chance for growth, especially in the pharmaceutical industry.